by Mahmoud Fouly, Abdel-Meguid Kamal
CAIRO, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) -- Egypt is making progress in carrying out a national project for protected agriculture, as the country aims to achieve self-sufficiency of vegetables, maintain food security and increase agricultural exports.
Protected agriculture uses modern technology to control environmental and climatic factors surrounding crops via cooling, heating and ventilation devices, as the crops are protected in greenhouses from winds, rainfalls and storms so that people harvest higher yields, of better quality.
The Egyptian armed forces have recently distributed greenhouses to farmers in Sinai Peninsula, east of Cairo, while the Ministry of Agriculture distributed seedlings of a variety of vegetables to them for free to encourage the use of the modern type of agriculture.
The most populous Arab country aims to cultivate 100,000 feddans of land (420 million square meters) using protected cultivation, and it has so far managed to cultivate 15,000 feddans via greenhouses in different areas, said Engineer Ibrahim el-Desouky, supervisor of protected agriculture at the Ministry of Agriculture.
"Most of the crops currently grown in greenhouses are vegetables," he told Xinhua.
Desouky pointed out that through Egypt's ongoing national project for protected crops, the country seeks to produce large amounts of vegetables to meet the needs of the local market and export the surplus.
One of the advantages of protected agriculture is saving large amounts of irrigation water, he added.
According to international standards, Egypt suffers from water poverty. The country seeks to address this situation by rationalizing the use of water in all fields, modernizing its irrigation system, increasing desalination plants and treating sewage water.
Another advantage of protected cultivation is that it makes the most of agricultural lands, because crops cultivated inside greenhouses grow vertically, take smaller space and save open areas of lands for growing strategic crops, such as rice, wheat and beans, Desouky explained.
Meanwhile, Egypt plans to establish complementary industries side by side with the protected agriculture project, such as sorting and exporting stations, which will provide job opportunities.
The high cost is the only issue about protected agriculture, for the cultivation of 1 feddan inside greenhouses costs from 1 to 2 million Egyptian pounds (about 63,738 to 127,476 U.S. dollars), according to the Egyptian official.
Experts, however, believe that the economic viability of protected agriculture makes up for its high cost, through the abundant production and the higher quality and prices of its products. Besides, the cost of cultivating protected crops decreases in the long run due to the several-year durability of the greenhouse components.
Hussein Abdel-Rahman, head of the farmers' syndicate, said that the cost of protected agriculture is currently high for farmers, hoping that the government will introduce a program to support and finance farmers in the greenhouse project to encourage them to use this type of agriculture.
"The protected cultivation project is very important and productive. The productivity of 1 feddan planted in greenhouses is equivalent to that of 5 feddans grown in an open field," the farmers' syndicate chief told Xinhua.
Abdel-Rahman added that greenhouses produce high quality crops that can be exported to other countries, emphasizing that protected agriculture enables planting summer and winter crops at any time of the year as well as controlling the size of fruits and the amount of fertilizers.
"In fact, Egypt is moving fast and well in the project of protected agriculture, which is a national demand in light of the current agricultural situation and the increasing population," said the veteran farmer.
Since February 2018, Egypt has launched thousands of greenhouses as part of the country's greenhouse mega project, which is expected to produce over 1.5 million tonnes of vegetables per year and provide more than 300,000 direct job opportunities.
Over the past few years, Egypt has witnessed a significant increase in agricultural exports. From January to August, the country exported more than 3.7 million tonnes of citrus, fruits and vegetables, according to official data.